Edward Gleason’s “Magic Castor:” A re-evaluation

Since posting my essay on Edward Gleason’s 1860 “Magic Castor,” I’ve received several inquiries as to the market worth of the object.  I must confess that I hadn’t intended to discuss market values on this site. But clearly, current market values are among the meanings found in objects, and judging from the several individuals who’ve… More »

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Inaugerating change: the ball gown of Fanny Yarborough Bickett, at the North Carolina Museum of History

From the mid-nineteenth century on, progressive-minded women demanded dress reform. Oblivious to their concerns, arbiters of Victorian fashions continued to encase women’s torsos in constricting corsets, and to encumber them with voluminous floor-length skirts, held out on hoops, or, later, puffed out behind on steel and whalebone bustles. Even as the twentieth century dawned, the… More »

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Mystery Object number 3 revealed: an early stethoscope in the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

My clever reader Nevin got it right again – this is an early example of a stethoscope, from the collections of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources (http://collections.ncdcr.gov)   Although the idea that the sounds produced by organs in the human body can help a physician diagnose a patient’s ailments dates as far back… More »

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Mystery Object number 3

Here is my third mystery object! It’s about 6 inches high and a little over 2 inches in diameter. It’s made of pine, turned on a lathe. The first of its kind was invented by an embarrassed French doctor.

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Token gestures: an Early Republic period snuff box in the North Carolina Museum of History

Some objects are steeped in historic ironies. Such is the case with this little snuff box, from the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History (http://ncmuseumofhistory.org). At the turn of the eighteenth century, snuff boxes were elegant accessories for gentlemen, and sometimes for ladies as well. Snuff-taking (inhaling powered and scented tobacco through the… More »

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Just teasing! A teasel frame from the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts

The word teasing is derived from the teasel (or teazel) plant, Dipsacus sativus. The teasel has a thistle-like seed head, with sharp spikes surrounding the seed casings. Since the Middle Ages, Europeans have used the dried seed heads of the teasel plant to raise the nap on woolen cloth, and in the eighteenth-century the plant… More »

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Mystery Object number 2 revealed: a Nineteenth-Century Tooth Key from the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts

And, my reader Nevin guessed it – mystery object number 2 is a tooth extractor, or, as they were commonly called, a tooth key. This one, from the collection of the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts (http://metc.org), is probably a quite early nineteenth-century example, since the shaft is straight. Later, the shafts of tooth… More »

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Mystery Object number 2

Here is my second mystery object! It’s 4.25 inches wide at the handle, and 5.25 inches long. Hint: In the nineteenth century, a lot of people would have come into contact with this object – and they wouldn’t have enjoyed the experience one bit. Have a guess about what it is!

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Girlhood as seen in a Mary Cassatt painting

This week’s essay is guest edited by Miriam Musco. Miriam Musco is a museum educator at the Sciencenter, a children’s science museum in Ithaca, New York.  She earned a B.A. in history from Indiana University and her M.A. in Museum Education from the University of the Arts, and is the author of the blog The… More »

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Three lace bobbins at the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts: moving objects

Three bone lace bobbins nestle together on a shelf in a storage cabinet at the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts (http://metc.org/). “Eliza” reads the dotted, colored lettering on the side of one, while the second reads “George,” and the third “Ruth.”   Bobbin lace was handmade, by twisting threads around one another into intricate patterns.… More »

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